Small Talk ... : Memories of an Edwardian Childhood
Small Talk... avoids the temptation of a full-blown 'My Life and Times' type of autobiography and presents instead a recreation of childhood years in Oxford before the First World War - a child's-eye view of the family, the friends, the servants, the pets and the holidays in Scotland and Cornwall that made up that childhood. It is as much concerned with her own development as an amateur field botanist as with the occasions when the adult world intruded, when 'Uncle Richard' (Lord Haldane) might lead the younger members of the family out to the wash-house to watch the messy business of heating wax to take the impression of the Great Seal of England. If Lord Baden-Powell and Andrew Lang appear briefly, it is less as famous figures of the period, but rather as irritating visitors with passions either for tying knots or talking about fairies who interrupted the pleasures of raiding the kitchen garden for fruit, or reading at night behind the curtains of the drawing-room. There are glimpses of her reactions to scientific theories, as they reached her in repercussions from her father's work, and to the High Tory politics of her formidable mother. Small Talk... is a precise, vivid picture of the people and manners of a world which has receded so rapidly that it is now further from the experience of people today as the other side of the moon. In another sense, though, it is a timeless picture of childhood itself. The introductory essay by Ali Smith "The Woman From The Big House" was first first published in Chapman 50.